Between 90 and 100 refugees are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after their rubber dinghy sank off the coast of Libya.
The inflatable boat was carrying more than 100 people when it went down off the eastern city of Khoms on Tuesday, said Ayub Qasim, a spokesman for Libya’s coastguard.
Rescuers found just 17 survivors clinging on to the boat’s wreckage, Qasim said.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Libya’s capital, Tripoli, said the country’s coastguard also rescued more than 279 refugees from two boats off the western city of Zawiya.
“The survivors included 19 women and 17 children. Most of those on the boats came from African countries,” he said.
The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) describes the Mediterranean Sea as the world’s deadliest border. Last year, 3,116 people died in its waters while trying to cross from North Africa to Europe by sea, the agency said.
Libya, which was plunged into chaos since the 2011 ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, has become the most common point of departure for refugees traveling by sea to Europe.
Italy, their main point of entry, is providing naval support to the Libyan coastguard to stem the flow of people.
“Libya’s coastguard is badly equipped and they are blaming the European Union for not providing enough resources to combat this crisis,” our correspondent said. “Officials here also worry that this crisis, if it escalates, could be used for international intervention in Libya.”
Over the weekend, 64 refugees lost their lives off of the coast of Libya in what is believed to be the first Mediterranean shipwreck of 2018.
The boat was carrying 150 people when it set off from the eastern town of Garbouli, according to Italy’s coastguard. Rescuers saved 86 people and recovered eight bodies.
Among the survivors was a three year old child who clung to her mother as she drowned, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
“Survivors held on to the wreckage as they waited for a rescue with the bodies of those who didn’t make it, including family members, floating around them,” MSF said in a tweet.
Some 171,635 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea during that period. That figure is roughly a 50 percent drop over the previous year.